Centre for Entrepreneurship>Blog>Caroline Thompson

Bright sparks in the Welsh capital


New and developing businesses in Wales are getting a boost with the opening of our new Entrepreneurial Spark hatchery in Cardiff. It feels so good to help and support entrepreneurs and I can see that I am making a real difference to them.  

Run by Entrepreneurial Spark and powered by NatWest in partnership with KPMG, Pinsent Masons & Dell EMC, the new Cardiff Entrepreneurial Spark hub provides free support, mentoring, networking and office accommodation for up to 70 businesses.

Each company has access to physical office space with superfast internet, a start-up boot camp, dedicated mentoring and regular events, workshops and training – all free of charge. Entrepreneurs, known as 'chiclets', also have access to Entrepreneurial Spark's enablement programme, which works with them to develop mind-sets and behaviours that make a successful entrepreneurial leader. The new facility is hosted in a prime location – the new One Central Square development in the very heart of the welsh capital.

All the other hatcheries are on bank premises, but in Cardiff we needed to go and find suitable premises and One Central Square was the perfect location. We received around 200 applications after places at the hatchery were advertised on NatWest and Entrepreneurial Spark social media, through events and in conversations with existing customers. There is a short application on the Entrepreneurial Spark website. From there people are selected for interview. Applications are welcome from any sector – from idea and early-stage businesses to those already trading and generating revenue – with the only criteria being a strong desire and ambition to grow and scale their business.

Hatchery interviewees are seen seven at a time. They attend a group briefing before they are seen individually. Then follows a 60-second pitch and a quick-fire seven-minute interview. It's impossible for the enablers to find out everything about a business in just 7 minutes so they focus on the entrepreneurial leader and their mind-set. Entrepreneurial Spark is a people accelerator. It builds people who build businesses.

In Cardiff we had some really high-quality applicants which is exciting to see. Successful candidates stay with us for six months and, towards the end of that, they have the opportunity to apply for the Nest programme, which is an additional 12 months of challenge and support.

While the hatchery is based in Cardiff, there are no conditions on where businesses are based. Cardiff's members hail from as far afield as Swansea Bay and the Forest of Dean. There are also no parameters in terms of the kind of business they are. We have a wide range of businesses in the hatchery from luxury leather handbags to artificial intelligence and pretty much everything in between.

Once the hatchery is fully up and running, I expect to see it making a positive effect on the local business community and economy. Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the economy and are significant wealth creators – the impacts that we will look at for the businesses we are supporting are increases in their turnover, levels of investment raised and number of jobs created. The survival rate of the businesses is important too – Entrepreneurial Spark has an impressive survival rate with 88% of the businesses that they have worked with still trading.

Entrepreneurial Spark is also proving a great benefit to the bank. We recognise that entrepreneurs and start-ups need help and support and that it's important to develop and facilitate a vibrant entrepreneurial community. We're not just saying it, we're doing something about it, something fundamentally different that will make us the 'go to' bank for entrepreneurs.

There is also the opportunity for all colleagues to develop an entrepreneurial mind-set through the Entrepreneurial Development Academy (EDA). This is a programme for colleagues that starts off with a one-day immersion course followed by ten online modules to support personal development in thinking like an entrepreneur to better serve our customers.

Entrepreneurial Spark is the world's largest free people accelerator for start-up and scale-up businesses. It's open to businesses from all sectors and completely free. The first hatcheries were opened in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Ayrshire. Following their success further ones opened in Birmingham, Bristol, Brighton, Leeds, Belfast and Manchester.

The Cardiff facility is one of the latest wave, which also includes Newcastle, Milton Keynes. Another is due in London in 2017.

For more information on the Cardiff hub and details of how to apply go to entrepreneurial-spark.com plus there are regular tours that take place, book your space via this link.

We are determined to be number 1 for customer trust, service and advocacy. Championing enterprise and entrepreneurship sets us apart and will continue to shape the bank of tomorrow. This goes far beyond providing pure finance and puts us on the footing to lead a movement that will see more businesses grow and thrive. This is about partnering with businesses in the truest sense; opening up our premises to them; providing help, advice, support and networks through our partnerships with Entrepreneurial Spark and the Prince's Trust and our own initiative – Women in Business. We are the only bank to support new business on such a scale. It's exciting stuff and it's exactly what we should be doing as a bank.

Blog post by Caroline Thompson, Entrepreneur Development Manager for Natwest
October 2016